Touring before a new album is released can be risky. There’s a desire from the artist to showcase their new material but these are songs that the audience doesn’t yet know. The sense of audience expectation is based on much loved tracks from previous albums and snap judgements can made on unfamiliar new songs. Frazey Ford notes that tonight’s Celtic Connections’ gig is essentially the first that she’s playing to tour her new album ‘U Kin Be The Sun’. It’s a risk she recognises as she observes that she’s “Here to play some old songs, to play some new songs and to try not to f**k things up.”
Ford opened with ‘Natural Law’, its tempo building from the first drumbeat and bass snap and setting the tone for tonight’s show. She recently admitted that the restrictive atmosphere around the folk scene she was previously part of made her wary to identify many of her musical influences. Tonight’s set list would reflect influences such as country soul, RnB and even gospel. Ford confided that it felt good to be playing live music for people again. The band started well too, sounding tight and lively, until a minor disagreement over the best key in which to play ‘Bird of Paradise’ – lead guitar briefly held one opinion, everybody else swiftly enforced another. It’s a song that shows off Frazey’s strong voice in a blissed-out 70’s style funk soul trip. She started to relax, to sway with the music and to allow her playful side to come out. She would go on to recall a ghostly experience in an old crypt, smiling and laughing as she channelled both the spirit and the memory.
Three songs in and it was time for the first of what would be seven new songs spread throughout the evening. ‘Lets Start Again’ felt very emotionally raw. She’s never shied away from her lived experiences as a major influence for her music. ‘Holding It Down’ offered Ford another chance to engage the crowd with a tale of misheard lyrics. That mischievous side came out again when she introduced a song a little later in her set that features quite a few curse words, or rather one particular curse repeated several times, as she muses on the nature of anger and forgiveness and asks the audience to forgive her a little sweary indulgence.
If anybody has heard her new material then it’s almost certainly ‘The Kids Are Having None Of It’. Ford recognises that it’s today’s youth who are holding our leaders to account. In the era of Greta Thunberg, the frank words, “Get out of the way, You’ve had your day, And it’s no longer how we gon’ play,” act as a warning statement from the generation she hopes can change the world. Ford then again opened up to the audience, recounting the experience of asking her 16 year old son to canvas his friends for volunteers to appear in what would become the video that accompanied the song’s 2019 release.
Balancing the new with the old, we get the excellent ‘Done’ – a song that seems to epitomise its singer. An incredibly powerful track, when she exclaims, “And I’m sorry that you don’t like your life, But I fought for my own victories and for the beauty in my life,” you get a sense of the vigour with which Ford approaches life, regardless of what anybody else may think. Her observation that “My joy takes nothing from you” is a reminder that our happiness doesn’t have to be built on the misery of others. Solo debut ‘Obadiah’ is represented amongst the more familiar songs in tonight’s set but there’s definitely more focus on second album ‘Indian Ocean’.
The main set ends with ‘Azad’, the opening track from her impending album release. It doesn’t feel like a natural closer but we’re tipped a knowing wink when Ford introduces her final song with visible inverted commas. She returns after the shortest of breaks with the D’Angelo song ‘When We Get By’ and another two of the stand out tracks from ‘Indian Ocean’. Recording ‘September Fields’ afforded Ford the chance to write and play with Al Green’s backing band – musicians who are amongst her musical heroes. Its message is infectious as she implored the audience, “You better get up for your mama, You better grab the best of your life. I know you’re ready, To get older anyhow”. If anything it’s bettered by ‘Indian Ocean’s title number – a song that closes out a set that is part raw confessional, part catharsis and a timely reminder that there’s still a world out there that can move you if you’re willing to let it touch your soul.